Sunday, September 26, 2010

Retro Review--Haunted House (Atari 2600)

Last week I mentioned that Atari is releasing a remake of their 2600 classic "Haunted House" in October. This week I dug out my Atari Anthology for the PS2 and played through the original. It holds up surprisingly well.

In "Haunted House" you are searching through the haunted Graves Mansion for three pieces of a magical urn, while trying to avoid tarantulas, bats and the ghost of old man Graves himself. On screen you're represented by a pair of eyes that look in whatever direction you're heading. The house is completely dark, and you'll only find the urn pieces by using matches to light up a small area around you and reveal anything that's close. The goal is to collect all three pieces of the urn and escape the house before losing the nine lives you are given to start with. Anytime one of the monsters touches you, you are scared to death and lose a life. You can pick up a magic scepter that protects you from enemies, but since you can only carry one item at a time, you'll have to put down the urn to carry the scepter.

What's great about "Haunted House" is that the base game is simple, and you add incremental levels of difficulty in the nine game modes that are offered. The basic game shows you the layout of each of the four floors of the house, and each floor is a different color. The doors are unlocked, and the main threat you have to worry about is avoiding enemies while looking for the urn. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can turn off the lights completely, which means you can only see walls, doorways and enemies when you have matches lit, or when the odd lightning flash illuminates the screen. If that's not enough, you can add the option of locked doors, that require you to find a key to open. These increased levels of difficulty ramp up the tension (particularly when everything is dark), and the game can get pretty atmospheric, which is saying a lot given the simple graphics and presentation.

For a game that's almost 30 years old, "Haunted House" is a still a fun, creepy game that kids and adults can pick up and play instantly. You can find it in the Atari Anthology for the PS2, or grab it in Microsoft's Game Room for the XBox 360. The new "Haunted House" will be coming out for Wii this Halloween.

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